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Mark’s Mozart Mix: Voci, Sinfonietta combine to present a grand choral work

In Voci rehearsal, the same focus can be seen on the faces of Kathryn McElwee, left, Nancy Merz, Sasha Smith, and Rene Lewis.

Photo by Kirby Neumann-Rea
In Voci rehearsal, the same focus can be seen on the faces of Kathryn McElwee, left, Nancy Merz, Sasha Smith, and Rene Lewis.



What’s old, as in 1791, is new, and that’s the joy of it for a group of 100 Gorge musicians.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s landmark choral-orchestra piece, “Requiem,” written just before his death in 1791, and completed by friends from the maestro’s notes, is the next production of the Voci Choir and Columbia Gorge Sinfonietta.

The two ensembles, both conducted by Mark Steighner, are combining for their first full-scale performance of a work involving voice and orchestra. Concerts are Oct. 24 and Oct. 26 in Odell. (See details below.)

“It was a real step up, the combination of the orchestra and the chorus,” said veteran singer Sheila Dale. “Hood River had a real history of music in the ‘40s, with a high level of skill, and he is bringing us back. Mark is bringing us back.”

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Nick Eby, left, Diane Varga and Jim Garrett Jr. of the Sinfonietta concentrate on their violin parts during last week’s orchestra rehearsal.

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Brett Peldyak

Twenty minutes of Brahms, intermission, and an hour of Mozart:

Performances are Oct. 24 at 7 p.m. and Oct. 26 at 2 p.m. at Wy’east Middle School Performing Arts Center, a new and acoustically pleasing performance space built five years ago at the Wy’east campus on Wy’east Road in Odell.

Also performed will be Johannes Brahms’ “Tragic Overture,” which Mark Steighner said gives the brass section (at left) a chance to perform, since the Requiem is primarily strings and vocal.

Suggested admission is $10. Pacific University music department soloists, including HRVHS graduate Brett Peldyak lend their talents in this ambitious undertaking by more than 100 musicians from Hood River County and the Gorge.

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Maestro Mark Steighner

“This is a big deal because this is the first time Voci and Sinfonietta have performed a major work together,” said Steighner. “Members of Voci and the Sinfonietta have been in past concerts together, but for Voci it represents music that’s the next level of maturing, to take on something so big.”

The music is new to most of the musicians, and in light of that Steighner asked them to work independently on their parts during the summer. (Steighner is conducting the Mozart piece for the first time, and juggling a busy schedule with his teaching at Hood River Valley High School and directing the drama department’s “Into the Woods,” by Stephen Sondheim, set to open Nov. 7.)

“I told the group, ‘if we do this you all have to work on it over the summer’. We have seven rehearsals together, and two with orchestra. The orchestra has been working on the music on their own, and we’re putting it together,” he said.

Soprano Nancy Merz of Voci said, “Taking it on and practicing alone, I wasn’t sure if I could commit, and then we started practicing together, and we heard all the parts, it changed everything about the way I felt about it, and now I’m really thrilled we get to do it.”

Melanie Finstad agreed. “When we first started practicing this, it was so painful to get through just one of these songs, and before we practiced with the symphony it felt like practice lasted forever, but then when we practiced with the symphony, I couldn‘t believe how quickly it went by and how good I felt. It was completely different and it was really cool,” Finstad said.

“Besides learning the music you’re learning Latin, another language, but I love the feeling you get when singing it,” said Laura McAllister, who is new to Voci.

“Requiem” is big and meaningful, but accessible, according to Steighner, and it clocks in at 49 minutes.

“In terms of length, it’s a good length, not overwhelming,” Steighner said The concerts will open with a shorter work by Johannes Brahms, “Tragic Overture.” (In February, the Sinfonietta will tackle works b Brahms and Richard Wagner.)

Joining Voci and Sinfonietta are HRVHS alum Brett Peldyak, who has a bass solo, and three of his choral mates from Pacific University (details below).

On “Requiem,” Steighner said, “Of all the things that have orchestra and choir, this one has the dramaticism, but it is also melodic. People are familiar with the music and it has some name recognition, a good first step. There are a lot of works for both choir and orchestra, but this is accessible to both groups. It has to be. It is complex but approachable.”

But indeed complex.

“It’s kind of a leap into the unknown,“ Steighner said, noting that Voci members possess “all levels of experience.

“I’ve been impressed moment to moment how the choir has really risen to the occasion. They’ve spent a lot of time studying it. They’ve been living with that piece for two months and if you’re going to live with something for two months it’s a great piece to live with.”

“They’re getting out of it as much as they put in,” Steighner said. “I wouldn’t do it if it wouldn’t sound okay. I have standards to keep, and if it’s not up to those standards I wouldn’t want to do it.”

He said there are many interpretations of the Requiem. “I go into it with my intuition and my scholarship of what I think is right.” Part of his role adjusting the musical tempo for both the Voci and Sinfonietta, “It’s kind of a balancing act,” he said.

Nathan Stokes, who is the Wy’east band teacher, said, “I had no choral training in college and I joined Voci to get a crash course in vocal technique, and this has been a crash course, and that’s putting it lightly. But it’s been totally worth it.”

Voci newcomer Andrew Kirschbaum said he is gaining a new appreciation for a composer he has always loved.

“As I read it and dug deeper to figure it out, it gave me a new appreciation, especially this piece,” said Kirschbaum. “It just inspired me to dig deeper myself. I’m kind new to the whole scene, but this drove me to spend time to master it as best I can. It is such a beautiful piece.”

“Getting to know this music was like getting to know Mozart, in just a tiny little way, which was amazing,” said Connor Muhl, at 15 one of the youngest Voci members. “This was the best music of Mozart’s time, and it’s really enjoyable.”



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